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The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is part of the Scottish Government’s Hydro Nation strategy. The objective of the strategy is to develop the economic, environmental and social value of Scotland’s water resources. The Hydro Nation Scholars play an important role in supporting this by:

  • developing understanding of how and where best to develop the value of Scotland’s water resources
  • focusing on enhancing Scottish capacity in areas of existing research excellence
  • providing new research and insights where there are gaps related to water resources in Scotland.

Projects with international elements will be expected to recognise and reflect in their design the key territories set out in the Scottish Government’s International Development Framework, and of those Malawi in particular. Projects in other territories can be considered, but priority will be given to projects which can demonstrate a clear understanding of recent or current Hydro Nation international activity.

The Programme and the associated graduate school will be managed on behalf of the Scottish Government by the Hydro Nation Scholars Executive Group (HNSEG), drawing on its Scotland-wide water policy, industry, and academic network.


The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for project topics and then for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. The areas of interest are set out below.

Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council) for up to 7 PhD scholarships. Two of these may be awarded to “overseas” Scholars. Home and overseas Scholars are defined according to a Scholar’s status for University admissions. The funding available will be in line with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Currently these are:

  • National Minimum Doctoral Stipend for 2019/2020 is £15,009
  • Research Councils UK Indicative Fee Level for 2019/2020 is £4,327
  • Overseas Indicative Fee Level for 2019/2020 is £21,500

Supervisors will be allocated £2,500 per annum for Travel and Subsistence and all fees and stipend will be covered. Exceptional costs, for example, additional research costs (RTSG), travel costs and placement costs during the scholarship will be negotiated with the HNSEG.

Scholars will be funded for 4 years. The scholarship may involve periods of research at a water related institution, such as Scottish Water, the Scottish Government, SEPA, or industry. The HNSEG will liaise between the applicant and the water organisation to develop this link, following appointment of the Scholar. Please do not contact a placement partner before application.

Projects with international elements will be expected to recognise and reflect in their design the key territories set out in the Scottish Government’s International Development Framework, and of those Malawi in particular. Projects in other territories can be considered, but priority will be given to projects which can demonstrate a clear understanding of recent or current Hydro Nation international activity.

Scholars will benefit from specialised programmes provided under the auspices of the Hydro Nation Graduate School.


Call for Project Proposals

  • The call for project proposals, based on advertised topics is made in July of the current year
  • There is a strict limit of one application per academic as a primary supervisor and one as a second supervisor
  • Projects proposals must be submitted to the HNSP Secretariat Laura Logie (  on the project proposal form below
  • The deadline for the submission of project proposals for the 2020 call is the 25th September 2019
  • Prospective PhD Scholars are encouraged to submit project proposals (Scholar-led proposals), which will be reviewed alongside academic-led proposals
  • The proposal must show that the project is rational, feasible, innovative and relevant to the Hydro Nation strategy
  • Project proposals will be reviewed and selected by a panel chaired by the HNSEG and includes policy stakeholders from Scottish Water, SEPA, WICS, DWQR and SNH.  The panel will then decide on which projects will be approved for advertisement. Proposers will be notified of the outcome early October 2019. 
  • If approved for advertisement, this does not mean that the project has been successful in securing the funding from the Scottish Government.
  • PhD candidates for approved advertised projects will then be interviewed with recommendations to the Scottish Government, who will take the final decision on the award of Scholarships.
  • A summary timetable for recruitment is shown below:

Summary Timetable for Recruitment for 2020

Postgraduate Project Proposal Call

July 2019

Deadline for Project Proposal Submission

25th September 2019

Review of Project Proposals by Hydro Nation Stakeholder Panel

Early October 2019

Advertisement of Approved Projects

October 2019

Deadline for Scholar Applications

6th January 2020

PhD Scholar Interviews

3rd & 4th February 2020

Final Decisions on PhD Scholars

Mid/Late February 2020



1.  Understanding the Efficacy of Large-Scale Water Features for Surface Water Attenuation

Problem: Surface water flooding is a significant problem in Scotland. The Flood Risk Management Strategies published by SEPA in 2015 estimate that it is responsible for 23% of annual average flood damage and the risk of surface water flooding is likely to increase in the future as a result of climate change, the loss of green space in urban areas and the spread of impermeable surfaces; sewer flooding is also subject to the same pressures as above.

Ask: Project proposals are invited which will help us to better understand the science of large-scale attenuation features and their interaction with soils and other natural landscape features, existing water flows in rural and urban environments etc to underpin effective scale interventions and inform the development of appropriate planning policy.

2. Opportunities to Maximize Natural Capital Benefits from the Operation of Artificial Waterbodies

Problem: There are many artificial or modified waterbodies in Scotland that are operated for a range of public benefits, such as water supply, renewable energy generation, navigation etc. They can, and do, offer potential for further public benefits including nature conservation that contribute to the nation’s natural capital.   For example, in recent years several artificial waterbodies have been successfully used for both their primary purposes, but also now act as crucial refuge sites for nature conservation (e.g. the conservation of vendace or powan). Other modified waterbodies continue to present challenges to the management of local fish populations, such as the successful downstream migration of smolts.

Ask: Project proposals are invited to assess and address the question of how can the full range of public benefits be maximized while still maintaining the utility of our artificial waterbodies?  Proposals should take account of other relevant current HNSP Projects.

3. Source Management of Priority Substances / Priority Hazardous Substances

Problem: Studies carried out as part of the Chemical Investigations Programme show that Priority Substances and Priority Hazardous Substances as specified on EU watch lists exist in wastewater influent streams. These vary across the country and depend on upstream influences. It is generally accepted that treating for these substances at urban wastewater treatment plants is likely to be prohibitively expensive.

Ask: Project proposals are invited that explore and assess what methods there are or could be developed, for controlling discharges at source to minimize the level of priority substances reaching the sewer network. Proposals should include steps to explore the technical feasibility and scale of deployment required to deliver significant impact at a national scale.

4.  Resilience to Droughts and Water Shortages

Problem: Recent evidence indicates that climate extremes are not only becoming a reality in Scotland, but their severity and frequency is increasing. The summer of 2018 was a clear example; a summer drought particularly impacted the North and East of Scotland with record low flows observed in several Scottish rivers. 

Across the wider UK, droughts are predicted to become more severe and affect larger areas of the country in the coming years. Impacts include those on industry, public/private supply, agricultural production and biodiversity.

Ask: Project proposals are invited to improve our understanding of, and strategies to improve, Scotland’s resilience to droughts/water shortages through the lens of industry (both in respect of suppliers and users of water), decision making by land managers, and how best to address public concerns around continuity of supply. Proposals will be  expected to focus on socio-economic aspects of resilience but be based on a multi-disciplinary evaluation of impact. 

5.  Water-Wise Design

Problem:  Contemporary practice in the construction industry increasingly recognises the part that water efficiency plays in making construction more sustainable, and that planners and others in the sector should aim towards minimising otherwise potentially costly waste including of water resources. Statutory Requirements are set out in existing Building Regulations with guidance on non-mandatory actions and other aspects of buildings sustainability available in the Technical Handbook.  However, appropriate water supplies remain a growing concern given the need for water in the production process for many construction materials such as concrete and steel. Often, this water is taken from potable supplies, thereby contributing to increased carbon emissions, when raw water may be perfectly usable. More needs to be done to understand water usage and specification requirements in the construction phase to ensure this is a key consideration in the overall design of  construction projects. Factoring in the usage required within a building in its operation, as well as how to encourage people to be less wasteful of water through design, is also important. For example, some buildings can be constructed to catch and use rainwater, which may be more cost-effective in the long-run through savings related to energy use and overall water consumption. Proactive water-efficiency planning from the beginning of the design process can help identify areas of potential savings, allowing developers to bring forward the most site-appropriate solutions for usage, management and maintenance

Ask: Project proposals are invited that improve the construction sector’s understanding of how a sustainable water use frame of reference could influence the whole building design, construction and use process.  Project ideas are sought that consider the mechanisms and tools needed to encourage and support designers and architects to develop more truly water-efficient buildings that recognise circular economy principles and encourage more efficient resource use such as reduced (non-potable) water intense processes that can be built into modern design and/or potentially retrofitted to existing infrastructure to contribute to water wise society.  Other examples could include how to better integrate attenuation features and extend their use e.g. for irrigation or for aesthetic purposes, thereby enhancing developments. Understanding the needs of the users and involving wider community engagement in the design and use of social space using water environments in developments could also be considered. Project proposals should include consideration of the role development planning can play in providing Scotland with leading edge water efficient building infrastructure.

6.  Water Management in the Food and Drink Industry

Problem: Food and Drink is a hugely important sector to the Scottish economy and a significant user of water resources with single sites often using water from a variety of sources against which issues of access and security of supply in volumetric and water-quality terms often must be balanced against the interests of other users.  The need to minimise production costs while observing responsible resource management is adding to increased competitive pressures to which the industry needs to respond creatively. In addition, the impacts of climate change on water resources for the sector need to be considered.

Ask: Proposals are invited that explore opportunities to assist this key industry respond to the kinds of challenges outlined above and maximise the value from the water resources it uses, whether through improved water efficiency, value and resource recovery or the creative use of water resources in relation to production.


The Project Proposal Application form can be downloaded here.

Please return this form to Laura Logie ( in electronic (Word) format by:  25th September 2019